Subjects: Migration program, regional migration, Tamil asylum seeker family
STEVE PRICE: Now, new figures out today, as I've said, show our migrant intake has fallen to 160,000 - the lowest level in a decade but I did make the point, the point that that's a Darwin, or four Wagga's, or a Townsville, it's still a lot of people. Coalition has capped the program at 160,000 a year for the next four years including a provision to take 23,000 of those people into regional Australia.
Federal Minister for Immigration is David Coleman. Minister, good afternoon. Thanks for your time.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon Steve.
STEVE PRICE: The 23,000 regional idea, how are we going to encourage people to do that?
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah. So that's [audio skip] and how that works Steve is people who take one of those visa spots are able to get permanent residency but only if they live and work in regional Australia for three years. So that means over the three years they form links, they've got their job, they've got their community links and if they don't stay for the three years they don't get permanent residency, and that's a really powerful incentive. And that's a significant increase on what we've done in the past and we're seeing some very promising signs in terms of people taking up our regional visas.
So for instance, in the year that just ended there's a visa category called the regional sponsored migration scheme and we actually saw a 40 per cent increase in the number of people taking up that program. And that's about the way we manage our program, the way we process our visas and the structures we set up. But we're going to continue to focus on regional and you'll see ongoing growth in regional relative to the big cities.
STEVE PRICE: A lot of our audience, whenever we have this discussion, raise the fact that the figure that you quote - the 160,000 - is not a true and accurate reflection of what's happening. You've got net overseas migration - and that's arrivals minus departures - 271,000 this year, 267,000 next year, 263,000 in 2022, that's the estimate and you've got the issue here of international students, long term visitors, people on working holidays. So the 160, while it might be a headline figure, is not truly accurate is it?
DAVID COLEMAN: I wouldn't, I wouldn't accept that Steve. I think that there's a key distinction between permanent and temporary and that's that permanent gets to stay and temporary, when they first arrive, do not unless they subsequently qualify for permanent residency…
STEVE PRICE: But that still clogs up roads, public transport, our universities, all of those things. It still adds a whole lot more humans into the border of Australia.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well I think the key point Steve is the biggest category in temporary is international students. Now, last year international students spent $35 billion in Australia and that employs about 200,000 Australians. So that's a positive thing for the country, they're the biggest category and 84 per cent of international students go home after they've finished their study. And this is what we've done, is we've said to international students if you go to a regional campus, a regional uni, you'll get an extra year on your graduate visa to stay in Australia. And we think that'll be attractive and we think that'll encourage more students to go to regional Australia.
Because the reality is, as you've pointed out Steve, is that we have had significant population pressure in Sydney and Melbourne in particular for a number of years and I think in recent years a lot of people have felt that it's almost sort of not okay to be concerned about the congestion. But the reality is it is a real issue and that's why we're taking steps to reduce the rate of migration in the cities and get more migrants to the regions where they're desperately needed. So I’m just outside of Warrnambool in Victoria at the moment and we've got a Special Migration Agreement down here for the dairy industry and for some other industries and people down here are crying out for migrants to fill those jobs that, unfortunately, just can't be filled at the moment with local workers. So it's about…
STEVE PRICE: That - sorry.
DAVID COLEMAN: So it's about basically getting the balance right and getting the distribution right so we get more people to regional areas and therefore have less population growth in the cities.
STEVE PRICE: How do we choose where that 160 come from?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well most of it's the skilled program Steve. So close to 70 per cent of the 160 are skilled migrants and they apply and are assessed based on their skills. So for instance, if we say that there's a need for skilled migrants in a technology sector or whatever the case is the people who have the highest level of skills are the ones who get selected. So it's not based on them from a particular country, it's based on what their skills are.
STEVE PRICE: And how difficult is it to get permanent residency in Australia? If you have a skill, is it quite simple?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, within the skill programs you can get permanent residency through being sponsored by an employer in the permanent program. You can also get it through the independent program where if you've got a high level of skills that we're seeking you can get permanent residency. And then there's a whole lot of people as well who get only temporary residency under the old 457 system which, under Labor to be frank, was rorted and became, not so much skilled labour as it was just a whole lot of labour. We've pulled back on that system and it's now called the TSS, Temporary Skills Shortage System. We've seen a reduced number of people coming in but a higher average salary and that's a good thing and it’s reflecting the fact that we're focusing more sharply on the highest of positions where the economic value to Australia is the greatest.
STEVE PRICE: We'll take some calls from the audience on whether they think 160,000's appropriate. Just while I've got you on the line, tomorrow we find out whether the Tamil family from Biloela are able to stay in Australia or not. The court has delayed that to four o'clock tomorrow.
Do you have a view on whether this family should stay here or go?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look Steve, I'm a party to that case, a party to that case and my position was put to the court yesterday in relation to the matter. And as it's ongoing and as it's before the courts it's not really appropriate for me to comment on it further.
STEVE PRICE: Okay. Thanks for your time.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks Steve.
STEVE PRICE: David Coleman, Federal Minister for Immigration.